Municipal officials in northern Beaufort County are finding out what's in a name, at least when it comes to directing traffic.
The rerouting of U.S. 21 through the town of Port Royal instead of the city of Beaufort is now in effect, following several years of planning and contentious debate.
U.S. 21 once ran from Boundary Street to Sea Island Parkway. Now, it runs from Parris Island Gateway to Sea Island Parkway.
Ribaut Road, which used to be part of U.S. 21, has reverted to S.C. 81 between its intersection with Boundary Street and Lady's Island Drive.
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The rerouting is expected to send more traffic bound for the Sea Islands through Port Royal, instead of through Beaufort. On an average day, 18,600 cars drive down Boundary Street to the intersection of Sams Point Road on Lady's Island, according to Maurice Allen with the S.C. Department of Transportation's Beaufort office.
The idea has been discussed for years and was approved about a year and a half ago. However, it took lengthy negotiations between Beaufort, Port Royal, the county and the state to move it forward, Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said.
"In the last year and a half, we were finally able to convince everybody that was the original plan, and it would basically make it easier to get to the islands," he said. "We can give people an alternative other than having people sit on Carteret Street waiting on the (Woods Memorial) bridge."
Port Royal officials wanted Ribaut Road's speed limit dropped from 45 to 35 mph. It was lowered to 40 mph, but Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray still wants to see it lower. He said Ribaut is more of a street than a major traffic artery, and the speed limit should reflect that.
Murray also doesn't believe traffic through Port Royal will increase significantly, because local motorists will continue to drive their usual routes.
Over time, however, Keyserling believes the route change will redirect traffic through Port Royal instead of Beaufort. That will be aided by the Boundary Street project, which will narrow U.S. 21 Business and slow traffic. Boundary Street will undergo several years of construction, possibly starting this summer.
"It's not that we don't want people to go to downtown Beaufort, it's just that if people are in a hurry, downtown Beaufort is not the most efficient way to get through," he said.
DOT crews began installing the new signs for the U.S. 21 rerouting about two weeks ago. About 200 sign changes, between installing new ones and removing outdated ones, will occur, Allen said.
It will take time for GPS companies and map providers to update their products to reflect the change, Allen said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeonBeaufort.